Center for Science in the Public Interest

Wednesday, February 14, 1996

CONTACT: Penelope Miller (202)332-9110 x 358

Consumer Group Accuses Gerber Baby Foods

of "Pervasive Misleading Advertising"

CSPI Asks Federal Trade Commission to Take Action; Consumer Alert Sent to 20,000 Pediatricians

A national consumer organization today filed a petition with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) seeking to halt "a pervasive campaign of false and misleading advertising" by the Gerber Products Company, the baby-food giant that controls some 70 percent of the U.S. market.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) released its 47-page FTC complaint at a Washington, D.C. press conference this morning. CSPI also released copies of an informational mailing it has sent to 20,000 U.S. pediatricians as part of its ongoing campaign to improve baby food labeling and nutrition.

"Gerber has made it an article of faith that its baby foods are nutritionally equal -- or even superior -- to competing brands. In fact, many of Gerber's products are watered down with cheap fillers," charged CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson. "Some Gerber baby foods, including its best-selling brand, contain just half as much real food as competing products.

"Gerber is cheating babies and ripping off their moms and dads in order to make millions of dollars in extra profits. It's time for them to cease and desist this disgraceful corporate conduct, or at the very least, to stop lying about it in their advertising."

Parents are greatly concerned about their new babies diets," added Dr. Charles Attwood. "In my opinion, Gerber is compromising its products nutritionally and this is obscured by highly misleading advertising. Babies and parents alike deserve better than this." Dr. Attwood, a Louisiana pediatrician, is the author of Dr. Attwood's Low-Fat Prescription for Kids. He spoke at CSPI's press conference.

CSPI's petition to the FTC cites false or misleading claims in more than a dozen of Gerber's recent advertising and promotional materials, as well as noting numerous examples from Gerber advertising beginning in 1950. Jacobson singled out three recent Gerber claims for particular criticism:

A Gerber magazine ad claims that the company's practice of diluting some of its baby foods with chemically modified starch, water, and sugar "provide[s] added value -- without sacrificing nutrition." In truth, nutrition is clearly sacrificed. For example, Gerber's most popular product, Bananas with Tapioca, contains only about half the banana content of Beech-Nut's Bananas, and equivalent competitive brand. Gerber's version contains lower levels of vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, protein, and phytochemicals.

"Nutritionally You Can't Buy A Better Baby Food Than Gerber" and "Giving Baby the Best," the headlines of recent Gerber promotional pamphlets, are patently false, according to CSPI. Many varieties of Beech-Nut, Earth's Best and Growing Healthy baby foods -- which are not adulterated with starches and fillers -- are markedly superior to comparable Gerber varieties.

Many Gerber ads and print materials now include the slogan "Four Out of Five Pediatricians Who Recommend Baby Food Recommend Gerber." While technically correct, this claim obscures the fact that more than 80 percent of the pediatricians surveyed did not recommend any brand of commercial baby food at all. At least one Gerber promotional pamphlet mailed to consumers uses the question "Why Do Four Out of Five Pediatricians Recommend Gerber?" as its cover headline' even the qualifying phrase "who recommend baby food" is buried in tiny type on a back page.

Gerber Food Products is now a division of the Swiss pharmaceutical ompany Sandoz. According to Advertising Age, Gerber's 1994 baby-food advertising (the most recent figure available) totaled $16.7 million, more than double the previous year. Gerber's advertising and promotional activities are targeting toward the roughly four million families who have children each year. The company uses magazine advertising, spot television buys, coupons, brochures, direct mail, and even a site on the Internet for marketing purposes.

In its petition, CSPI asks the FTC to halt Gerber's deceptive advertising practices; to penalize Gerber financilly; and to require the company to run corrective advertising to set the record straight.

A petition CSPI filed last April with the Food and Drug Administratio asked the FDA to require that all baby-ffod labels prominently list the actual percentage of the product's main ingredients. That petition is still pending. A similar "percentage labeling" rule, urged by CSPI, was actually proposed by the FDA in 1976 but was abandoned under industry pressure.

Founded in 1971, the Center for Science in the Public Interest is a national consumer-advocacy organization specializing in food and nutrition issues. CSPI accepts no government or corporate funds. It is supported almost entirely by the 750,000 subscribers to its Nutrition Action Healthletter. CSPI first reported on the nutritional content of commerical baby foods in its April 1995 report "Cheating Babies."

ATTENTION EDITORS: Michael Jacobson is available for interviews on this subject by contracting Art Silverman at (202) 332-9110, ext. 370. Journalists may obtain a summary of CSPI's complaint to the FTC, as well as a complimentary subscription to CSPI's Nutrition Action Healthletter, by calling Fran Foster at (202) 332-9110, ext. 358.

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